Editor's Note: GameSpot received codes for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition on May 11, about 48 hours prior to the review embargo lifting. With that being the case, these are just impressions for the Legendary Edition's version of the first Mass Effect. GameSpot's full review will go live once I complete Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, at which point a score will be awarded.
The first Mass Effect is a bit of an outlier in comparison to the other two in the trilogy. In comparison to its two sequels, it's less linear and doesn't have the best third-person shooter cover mechanics. As a result, the first game, in its original form, has definitely aged a lot more than its successors--for the past few years, I've begun advising newcomers to just start with Mass Effect 2, knowing the first game doesn't set the best example by modern-day standards. The Legendary Edition goes a long way in addressing those concerns. It doesn't overhaul everything, but the remastered Mass Effect 1 is a more enjoyable experience than playing the original game today, and makes for a far more palatable entry point to the series.
For those who are grabbing Mass Effect: Legendary Edition to pick up these three games for the first time (welcome, welcome--y'all are in for a treat) or are in need of refresher of what they are, the Mass Effect trilogy is an interconnected series of action RPGs where your choices in the first game can influence how characters perceive you or how events transpire in the second, which then can domino effect into the third. You play as Shepard, a human soldier tasked with a mission to defend the Milky Way's intergalactic society of biological species from an army of synthetics, while an even greater threat looms on the horizon.
As a remaster, the Legendary Edition does not remake the Mass Effect trilogy from the ground up, instead enhancing the original experience with quality of life improvements. For Mass Effect 1, the most noteworthy improvement is its combat. Shepard snaps to cover more seamlessly in the remaster, for instance. In the original, players needed to push an additional button to crouch while ducking behind a short wall. However, in the remaster, simply pushing the analogue stick towards cover will make Shepard duck behind it.
There are a couple of other small adjustments too, like improved aim assist so it's easier to strafe targets and a dedicated melee button so you can decide whether to shoot or punch an enemy rushing your position (in the original game, you just automatically melee attacked when you fired your gun at point blank range). The overall effect is that it no longer feels like you're fighting the enemy and the controls in the midst of a firefight. Dying in Legendary Edition's Mass Effect 1 is a far less frustrating affair as a result; when it happens it's more likely due to a mistake on your part, as opposed to the mechanics or controls not playing nice.
Granted, there are still issues. Certain biotic and tech abilities can uselessly collide into a wall if your target side steps out of your line of sight, as most powers don't curve around cover like their Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 counterparts. It doesn't happen all the time--most of Mass Effect 1's battlefields are located in fairly open areas full of straight-shot sightlines--but it happens enough times to be noticeable and annoying, especially in the enclosed spaces found in all the bases you'll uncover across Mass Effect 1's many optional side missions.
The Legendary Edition makes a few adjustments to content as well. I've appreciated every change that I've managed to see--my favorite is the adjustment to Eden Prime, Mass Effect 1's opening level. In the original game, the sky was blanketed in murky red clouds, with lightning flashing. It looked like the end of the world had already occurred and you were coming in on the tailend of an invasion, not during it. In the remaster, Mass Effect 1 now opens on a sunny day, which I find to be far more eerie. This change shifts Mass Effect to better align with the openings of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, both of which also begin with an unforeseen, unknowable force interrupting business as usual, mirroring the greater framework of how these games are composed of simple, seemingly everyday decisions being interrupted by brutal consequence.
Most of the scenes and character models in Legendary Edition's Mass Effect 1 are enhanced with more detailed graphics and improved lighting as well. This has done wonders for many of the alien characters, especially your squadmates. Some of the human characters, however, aren't as lucky. Especially for folks who are darker skinned, like Anderson and Samesh Bhatia, the remaster brightens up their faces in a way where there are now blotches of white, almost like the characters were in the midst of painting their faces when Shepard came along. It's never a great look in all the examples I've seen so far, which is disappointing.
Beyond the aforementioned pros and cons I've mentioned, the Legendary Edition's Mass Effect 1 is largely the same game, so Mass Effect's existing praises and problems persist. The game still rushes through an opening act where you meet and befriend individuals at a frantic pace, and everyone seems to pretty calmly accept the sudden appearance of a galaxy-level threat. Additionally, the binary dialogue system also funnels people into role-playing Shepard in one of two ways, removing much of the potentially intriguing nuance from its many decisions. But this game's second act is still a wonderful exploration of a galaxy packed to the brim with fascinating lore to discover. Plus, taking the time to befriend your crew is still rewarding from a storytelling standpoint, selling why the crew of your ship would even want to follow you. Legendary Edition isn't this huge transformation for the original trilogy; again, combat is so much better in Mass Effect 1 thanks to quality of life improvements, but otherwise this is the same game.
As I'm still in the midst of playing the Legendary Edition's Mass Effect 1 for the first time, there are still several improvements that the remaster makes that I haven't had a chance to experience. For example, the remaster utilizes a unified character creator, making it easier to continue playing as your custom Shepard across all three games. Additionally, DLC is supposedly more seamlessly integrated into each game, with each now showing up during specific points in their respective game's story so as to tell a more cohesive narrative. I'll address these changes (as well as the handful of others the Legendary Edition makes) in the full review.
All in all, I'm enjoying playing Mass Effect 1 again, something I never thought I'd say (I find the original game's combat too frustrating). I'm eager to get back to it, and see how the Legendary Edition may have changed Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 as well. You'll have all my thoughts in GameSpot's full Mass Effect: Legendary Edition review, which will be published in the coming days.